Community forum: Working together on safety

By Steven Kenney

I’m aware that this letter may not gain me any friends, but as a parent of a school-aged child, I am concerned about how our school district reacted the day after the horrific slaying in Parkland, Fla. I have the unique privilege of sending children to public schools for the past 35 years and have seen a lot of changes in our public schools. I am not a member of any pro- or antigun lobby, and I have nothing to gain by this letter except hope things will improve.

As a parent and former law enforcement official, I found it unimaginable when I read that parents and the school district not only allowed but encouraged students to parade outside for photo ops, making them potential targets.

I hope the high school principal is as proud of the students when they protest school policy or school bullying.

The mind does not fully develop until around age 25. This is why it is illegal for children under 18 to marry or buy cigarettes, why the drinking age for alcohol was raised to 21, and most contracts cannot be entered into until ages 18-25.

The high school is not a college campus. The rights the principal suggests the students have should be the right to look toward us to keep them safe and educate them. I think this tragedy struck our nation that is so polarized that people unwittingly used the situation and students to push their agendas.

I am glad to see that President Trump is talking about gun control to ease the masses. This should calm and appease the left enough, as well as put the right on guard that they need to budge some, so that maybe we can work together and show the students the political system can work if we try and find common ground.

Gun control laws do not always work well. When the Clinton (1994) and Obama (2015) administrations passed bans on assault weapons, gun sales soared and shooting deaths didn’t decrease. I am not opposed to raising the age one can purchase a gun and tightening up loopholes in the current gun laws, I just don’t believe it will stop the violence in itself.

With an estimated 309 million guns in this country, a large percentage of them illegally obtained, new gun laws are not a blanket answer to safety. Neither is arming teachers with guns, mace or tasers.

Until schools, social services, police and federal agencies can follow through and enforce current gun laws, collect all the illegal guns, deal with mental health issues and worry about the safety of the masses over the rights of the individual, it is disingenuous to think another gun law will make our communities safer.

It does not address the real issue: What drives a person to pick up a gun and want to kill innocent children?

There is a segment of the school’s student population that feels alienated or bullied by the school. This may or may not be factual, but it is real to the student. When a child feels the school browbeats them because of their social status, address, race, gender or sexual orientation they happen to be born with, that feels like bullying.

For example, the high school had a mandatory assembly a few months ago when a Native American speaker said (in the words of the students that talked to me about it) minorities of all kinds are repressed and mistreated, and it’s all because of white males. This caused many students to go home very depressed or cry in the school restrooms. Staff were caught off guard by this and had to do a lot of consoling and damage control. This is not educational.

This winter, I was driving my son to school in a snowstorm, and trees feel across the road, blocking traffic. School buses and cars were stopped and had nowhere to turn. So I got my chain saw out, and my son and I started cutting up the trees, within seconds, folks got out of their vehicles and helped clear the road. My son worked side by side with a teacher he didn’t always see eye to eye with, but at that moment, we were all a community working for a common goal, and that didn’t matter.

These are the lessons the school should be involved in, build on common ground, not emphasizing differences.

Our children are robbed of their “age of innocence” by technology. They are bombarded by negative and false information constantly, adult matters and materials available with a click of a button watching videos of violence, sex and anger as soon as they learn how to turn a computer on. Combine this with movies, TV, video games and music, and they lose the “shock reaction” to these acts and crimes.

Democratic Sen. Bob Casey tweeted a misleading statement right after the shooting in Parkland which became an online “fact.” It said that there were 18 school shootings already this year. In fact, there had been only one, which is one too many. The others were suicides and accidental discharges of a firearm.

The sad part is that schools are the target of disenchanted students for mass shooting, singular murders of teachers or students and suicides because, in part, that’s where the pain is felt by the shooters. What has changed that makes schools the target of depression and anger in recent years?

Unenforced gun laws, out-of-control technology and desensitization to violence are a bad combination, with students feeling bullied and lacking respect for themselves or others around them.

I would ask the school board and other leaders to please consider all possibilities for areas of bringing students together and improvements to school security, policy changes and focusing back on the learning basics. Community building and the feeling of belonging within the school are important. We need to make sure we are educating all our kids to be prepared for life after they leave school and to have a sense of wonderment for their future and respect for all so they can be excited about the future and having a stake in the community. No one should feel despondent or depressed or threatened enough to act out violently. One community, one world, we all need to work together.

Steven Kenney manages the Southwest Harbor Water and Wastewater District. He’s also a former reserve police officer. He lives in Southwest Harbor.


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